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We are hoping to help teachers make Back to School smooth and easy this year!

I have to admit that I am already back to school, and today was not smooth and easy.  It wasn't.  I forgot that the beginning of the year is just as tiring as the end.  Seriously.  I almost feel asleep in my dinner, which would have been bad considering I had two pieces of lunchmeat and a fun size bag of M&Ms for lunch.  Last lunch is NOT fun.

Stop Trying to be Perfect

Now, those of you that have read my blog posts know I really like crafts.  I do.  However, I want my fellow crafty teachers to stop and say this pledge.

 "I, (insert your name here), give myself permission to not be crafty during Back to School time.
  I recognize that I have far more important things to do this week, including keeping up with hourly schedule changes and learning the new unit planning system.
  I acknowledge that the really cute student gifts are nice but not necessary, and that students would have them lost or destroyed before bedtime on the first day of school anyway.
  I understand that students are more worried about meeting their classmates than getting a craft on the first day of school.
  I will not neglect my (insert appropriate words here such as family, pets, sleep,  etc.) during Back to School in order to make my classroom look like Pinterest."

Did you say it?  Did you MEAN it?
Honestly, teachers put so much stress on themselves.  One of our newer teachers had herself in knots over getting a Boggle Bulletin board done by the first day of school.  Don't sweat it - it is okay if you start stuff like that the second week!  Or even the third week!

I had to totally revise my plans today after I realized that it would take approximately 4 million times longer to collect school supplies than I expected.  (Honestly.  I moved down a grade.  The learning curve is steep.)  Half of what I planned to do I didn't get done anyway.  It's okay!  Part of being a teacher is learning to roll with it.

Plan Now, Craft Later

Now, in order to do those crafty things later on in the year you need to be planned.  I mean really planned.  I have a framework in mind for where I want my class to be each quarter, and and idea of what activities I want to use regularly to get there.  Having a set plan for certain things, like grammar and vocabulary, really helps take the stress away - because I know what I am doing.  It also leaves more time for me to plan the more detailed units (and make crafts!)

Vocabulary Lessons for the Year

Greek Latin roots, vocabularyI know many teachers are using Greek and Latin roots now for vocabulary.  I have been researching spelling and vocabulary, and honestly spelling just does not transfer well in upper grades.  They might spell it on the test, but very few students do in their writing.

Spelling and vocabulary need to be given a dedicated time if you want students to retain what you are teaching.  10 minutes a day is just not going to do it.  I read a terrific book this summer called Word Nerds.  It has a lot of great ideas for vocabulary.

From my own childhood, I can tell you that using roots stuck with me from 2nd grade.  I still remember studying them with Mrs. Blackwell.  Knowing those word part meaning has long helped me to understand words I don't know.

In order to help a teacher plan their vocabulary for this year, I am giving away a copy of my Greek and Latin Word Study Bundle. It includes 40 weeks of lesson plans and activities! Each week features 10 words from 1-2 word part families.  If you are interested, you can try the first week free!

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Win a $100 TpT Gift Card!

 Don't forget to enter our giveaway on the Lesson Deli blog for a $100 TpT giftcard!  Just keep hopping through to reach it!  Both giveaways end at 12:00Am on Monday, August 16th so enter now!

Visit Caitlin at the Room Mom to learn more about getting organized!

A big thank you to Tammy from The Owl Teacher for organizing this linky!

Are any of you feeling the back to school pressure yet?  Students return in 3 days, and I am still trying to figure out where I put things in my cupboards.

Since I moved to this elementary school, I have been in a new room every year.  Luckily, I have gotten a larger room each year.  However, this year I also switched grade levels, and I am feeling the nerves of not being fully on it for both my room and my curriculum.

Room Organization
You know, it sounds so much easier than it is: just set up your room.

Have you ever seen these classrooms on Pinterest?  I usually have a few thoughts that run through my head when I look at classrooms in Pins.
            1.  Where do you have to teach to get a room that large?  I swear some of those classroom are as large as my house.
           2.  Does your school not have lice issues?  I mean, those fuzzy pillows my entice students to read, but they also guarantee that my entire room will have lice all year.  Not happening.
           3.  Where do you go to learn these decorating skills?  I mean, I also bought tissue paper, cute borders, etc., but my room still doesn't look like a magazine spread.  (I also feel this way about styling hair - it just never seems to work out.)

classroom organization
I took out my hated teacher desk and replaced it with a craft table.  I also used this
unmoveable space to make a homework area and a word work area.
Before you even start touching anything in your room, make lists of these items:

1.  Places that cannot move (student/teacher computers, doc cams, etc.)
2.  Spaces you MUST have.  
3.  Spaces you would like to have.
4.  Furniture that is in your room that you just HATE.  If you hate it, it isn't working for you.

I am pretty much stuck keeping my tech stuff where it is, unless I want to rewire the room myself.  When I thought about the size of my room, I really considered the issue of having to work around these set spaces.

classroom organization
With the Daily 5, I needed a meeting space near my Daily 5/CAFE board.  I repurposed a
chalkboard to make that area, and made sure to keep the carpet in front of it open.
Must Haves
Since I am teaching ELA and social studies this year, I need a writing center.  I have also decided to try the Daily 5 (probably the Daily 2 or 3 in reality), I need a meeting area and a bulletin board area to post the mini-lessons taught in CAFE.  I also need a place to store backpacks and supplies, because I just can't stand having all that junk at the desks.  I also need a lot of book/library space.

With the Daily 5, it would be nice to have a Word Work area.  It would also be nice to have a table space for whatever - projects, literature circles, etc.  (I never have had enough room for a table, so I would really like to see if I could use one effectively instead of making everyone move desks.)

Hate It
Teacher desk.  I hate them, just because.

classroom organization
More "must haves" were a library and a writing center.  I used this itty bitty corkboard to create a Synonym Word Board.  (Thanks Cinnamon's Synonyms!)  I placed my classroom library near it to ease my class flow, but I did move it back so I can reach the light switch (and see the student from the front!)
Organizing Your Room
Now that you have made your lists, look at your room.  You can be old school and make plans on a piece of paper, or be techie and use one of the many room organizers on the internet.  (Scholastic has an easy to use class set-up tool.)

Once you have a plan, try "Think first, move once."  (Okay, not really once but fewer times than if you didn't think twice!)  Ask yourself these questions:

1.  Where can I put my must haves and still have every student easily see the board?  Even if you don't use the board a lot, you know you will use it occasionally.
2.  Do I have my safety zones open?  The class behind me has to be able to walk through my room to lunch, so I have to make sure that is an easy route to walk.  Custodians also need to easily get through the room.
3.  Can I easily get to students?  Make sure your pathways will not be blocked once students actually sit in the chairs.
4.  Can you reach the light switch when you are at the door?  Don't laugh.  The light switches are in weird places in our school, so unless I want to walk around in the dark I have to make sure I don't block them!

After you have placed your "must haves" in your room successfully, then add in your wishlist items.  Once you are full, that is it - whether or not all of your wishlist fit.

classroom organization
On my wishlist was a supply area.  I really want the class to be student-centered, so I want
supplies to be easily accessed.  However, I can't stand junked up desks.  Using crates under
my dry erase board allows my store store supplies and still use the board!
Hate Its
Okay, you spend half of your life in that classroom.  If you hate something, get rid of it.  (If you aren't allowed, then cover it somehow.)

Find an alternative.  I know my desk was top small, so I was always piling things on it for lack of space.  I just went to a local Big Box store and bought a foldable black craft table.  Wah-la - new desk.  And it fits my doc cam, computer, and DVD player with leftover space!  (Every teacher has asked me about it, too.)  It did cost me $35, but it is worth it, because I can now fit everything on it and easily sit at it to work.

Have you made any changes to your room this year?  What is your best tip?

I hope you enjoy reading through all of the blogs linked up and get some great BTS tips!  Don't forget to enter the rafflecopter giveaway!

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It's Back to School Time!
Okay, hopefully you are excited about Back to School.  I have actually already started setting up my room, as my district starts teacher inservice on August 5th this year.  Getting into my room really helped get me excited about back to school.  I can't wait to read everyone's favorite BTS activities!

Getting Organized
I take the first 2-3 days to really work on learning students names and establishing some basic routines.  (Okay, routines take a lot longer than that, but I get a good start on things that need to be in place fast!)  Here are some ideas for you for your first days of school:

1.  Family Information Cards & Student Survey - These are great things to leave for morning work on the first day.  In upper grades, most kids can complete at least some of the information independently, and teachers can see who doesn't know their phone number!

2.  Supply Sort - I always forget this at the beginning of the year, but every student walks through the door and tries to hand the teacher all of their supplies.  Get boxes or other containers ready so that students can sort supplies without asking you.

Getting Over the Nerves
Everyone is nervous on the first day of school - both students and teachers.  I think it is really important to begin creating your relationship on the first day.

1.  Read a Book - Some teachers may chose to start their read aloud, but you could also select a short
book that you really love.  Don't worry about it being about the first day of school - show your personality!  Select a book that connects to you, your family, your interests, etc.  I plan to read the book "Sparky" by Jenny Offill because it reminds me of my daughter,

2.  Morning Meetings - If you plan to hold class meetings, start the first day!  It will help you to begin establishing your class expectations and routines.  On the first day, you could have students share something about their summer, what they want to learn this year, etc.  Class meetings will help establish your class community.

3.  Icebreakers - Honestly, I usually run out of time on the first day.  There is just so much organizing and hustle and bustle that I can't remember things - and neither can your students.  I like to send home an icebreaker as "homework" on the first day.  My favorite icebreaker is one I created, called "Guess Who?"  You only need copies of two pages, plus glue, scissors, and a pencil.   I prefer to have students complete it at home so other students do not see their answers.  Students complete the activity, naming their favorite colors, hobby, food, etc.


Over the next few days, I randomly select a few completed forms and read the answers.  The class has to try to guess who it is before I run out of clues.
Students absolutely love this activity - it is high engagement, even if the class thinks they know each other.  I usually give a small prize (eraser, pencil, etc.) to students who stump the class.  Once I read a Guess Who? form, I hang it on the hallway bulletin board - perfect for Back to School night!

What is your best back to school activity?

Usually I am really excited to go back to school, but this year the summer really flew by!  (I am pretty sure getting up at 6AM to take my daughter to cross country practice had something to do with that.....)  I spent a lot of time reflecting on what worked and didn't work in my classroom.  For my BTS resources, I will highlight what I felt went really well last year.

Teaching Social Studies

My brother and I are both social studies teachers at heart, and it just kills me to see how often social studies gets put off due to time constraints.  When it does get taught, often we tell students to "use the book."  Honestly, that just doesn't work.  Let me explain why.
Most kids don't know how to find things in a text.

There.  I said it.

As some of you know, I have been helping my son struggle through vision therapy this past year.  Experts estimate that at least 10% of students struggle with an undiagnosed vision problem.  For students like my son, their eyes cannot track.  At all.  Seriously.  Imagine him trying to read a question at the end of the chapter and looking back through the multipage lesson for the answer.

Yep, that isn't happening.

Then think about students like my daughter,  Dream student.  Perfect behavior, loves overachieving, always gets her work done, but hates social studies.  (Brings me to tears, you have no idea.)  Unless you make social studies interactive, she is in la-la-land.

Using Interactive Notebooks

I resisted the interactive notebook.foldables bandwagon for a long time.  I thought, "Who has time to get these kids to cut and glue?!!!"  I kept seeing blog after blog talk about these interactive notebooks, and I really wondered what kind of utopia people worked in.

Until the overachieving daughter came home and said she was bombing the end of course practice exams for civics.  And the exam was in a week.

At that point I figured I should really try something new, because her friend wasn't coming either and wanted to join our "class in a week."  I began designing foldables specifically tailored to the EOC content.  Now, my girl hates to cut and glue, but she was actually remembering the material.  (They both scored in the top score range, I am proud to say.)

With that success, I decided to try the foldables with my 5th grade kids.  It was May, so I figured I had nothing to lose - and I could see how well they worked.

They LOVED it.  I mean, 10 out of 10.  I couldn't believe it.  This was not the easiest class to manage, and even my complainers took notes without complaining!

Integrating Social Studies and Language Arts

Florida History

With my test run working so well, I designed foldables that scaffolded the social studies text for 5th grade, and a friend wanted them for 3rd.  The students loved them!  It did take a few weeks to train students on cutting and pasting, but really it was worth the time.

Using my foldables, I was easily able to divide the lessons and have student groups become experts
on specific topics.  The guiding questions help lower readers break down the text.  After a chapter or two, I was able to make the social studies foldables an independent activity or work with a group while the class worked on the lesson.

Students loved the INBs so much that they commented that they wouldn't get to do them with the next teacher!  Students were weighing their notebooks and asking if they could keep them.  It really wasn't til the last marking period that I realized how much ownership students took over their notebooks.
American History

I now have year-long bundles of social studies INBs for 3rd grade North America, 4th grade Florida History, and 5th grade American History.  I have a 7th grade unit that is written to support the Florida civics end of course exam.  The 1st semester of 8th grade American History is also available, and the second semester will be ready by January.  I will be working on 6th grade throughout the year.

Teaching Students About Themselves

Another popular lesson I did was my flap book on learning styles, multiple intelligences, and right & left brain.  I used this during the first week of school, and I had students complete one section per day.  We discussed what it meant to be a visual learner vs. a kinesthetic or auditory learner or
what the different intelligences meant.  Every time I mentioned study skills, we would talk about a good strategy for the different types of learners.

Included in the activity is a sort summary describing each type of learner or multiple intelligence.  For younger students, I simply copy the information and they can cut and paste it in their booklet.  For older students, teachers could probably read the information.

Multiple Intelligences

This activity also really helped me see the personality of my class.  I had a lot of kinesthetic learners last year, so I knew that I had to integrate a lot of movement!

I hope you enjoy reading everyone's linkies and get some great ideas for this year!

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